Assaults against St John ambulance workers rising

Over 200 incidents of abuse were reported by ambulance crew across New Zealand in August alone.
ROBYN EDIE/FAIRFAX NZ

Over 200 incidents of abuse were reported by ambulance crew across New Zealand in August alone.

Being kicked, punched, bitten, sworn at and spat on is all in a day's work for St John paramedics, who are fed up with the constant stream of abuse.

Over 200 incidents of abuse were reported by crew across New Zealand in August alone, including 65 involving physical abuse.

St John New Zealand chief executive officer Peter Bradley said he was fed up with staff being abused and wanted the public to take a stand. 

St John New Zealand chief executive officer Peter Bradley says any level of abuse on staff is unacceptable.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

St John New Zealand chief executive officer Peter Bradley says any level of abuse on staff is unacceptable.

"St John sends its ambulance officers to incidents to help people, not be attacked by patients and bystanders.

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"Any level of verbal or physical assaults on our staff is unacceptable."

Bradley said he recognised any situation involving emergency services was stressful, but it did not excuse abusive behaviour. 

"It's a combination of drunk people, people on drugs, people with mental health issues and sometimes people in high states of anxiety lashing out.

"The other complicating factor is that often you go to calls that are innocuous in a sense that when you are going you have no idea that it is going to be a dangerous call – and then the circumstances change."

His concerns had been highlighted by three assaults in the last month, including one where a female ambulance officer was attacked in Canterbury's Rolleston while moving a patient to an ambulance. 

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Police were called and the person was arrested and charged with male assaults female.

The female officer is still off work and is being supported by St John.

Bradley said St John was working closely with the South Australian ambulance service, whose "Keep your hands off our ambos" campaign effectively brought down assault numbers.

A similar campaign will be launched in New Zealand in the coming weeks. 

"We want people to realise there is a problem and see how dangerous it is," Bradley said. 

"We hope it will encourage people to give our staff the respect they deserve."

Internal changes were taking place to support staff, including a rollout of electronic tablets in ambulances so crews could receive up-to-date information.

Processes regarding the reporting of abusive incidents had also been updated, which contributed to a jump in reports of physical assault from 52 in the 2014-15 financial year to 65 in August this year alone.

St John strongly encouraged staff to report assaults to police, Bradley said.

"We want charges to be laid. We want these people to be held accountable."

New Zealand Ambulance Association chairman Mark Quin said the abuse of ambulance officers was a growing issue.

"Once upon a time people had respect for the uniform and to some extent it protected us. Now people have less and less respect for it."

He had heard of staff having to pull out of jobs because people had started screaming threats and throwing bottles.

Staff had been given more training in safety awareness recently, but there were still some big issues to address, he said.

"One of the problems is we are being called out on an increasing number of mental health incidents. We aren't specifically trained for that. We are having to be doctor, nurse, social worker and mental health worker."

Communication was also an issue, especially in black spots where there was no radio or cellphone service, and both paramedics and police were "overstretched", he said.

A police spokesperson said police made sure it was safe before sending ambulance staff in to deal with any injured people whenever the two emergency services worked together. 

* Comments on this article have closed.

 

 - Stuff

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